28 February 2017

This term’s chapel choir outing to sing Evensong had been arranged for Coventry Cathedral, a striking building that rose from the ashes after the Second World War, when the medieval gothic cathedral received a direct hit in 1940 in the city’s pounding by the Luftwaffe. The new, modernist style building is sited right next to the shell of the former building, of which both the tower and the spire survive. At 90 metres, the spire is the third highest in England, surpassed only by those of Norwich and Salisbury.

The new cathedral was designed by Basil Spence, who won the competition in 1950 for a design for the new cathedral. The building is adorned by some important art including a huge tapestry of Christ by Graham Sutherland (that can be seen in photographs at the east end, behind the choir), some fine stained glass windows in the baptistery by John Piper and a striking bronze sculpture by Jacob Epstein of St Michael’s Victory over the Devil, mounted on the external wall.

The consecration of the cathedral in 1956 was the occasion for the premiere of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. It was a young Edward Higginbottom, New College’s renowned former Organist, who was the organist’s page-turner on that occasion – and it was therefore highly appropriate that two of his former choristers, Edmund Breen and Carl Olavesen, were among our chapel choir choristers this afternoon.

This connection was not lost on our acting choral director, Andrew Yeats, who chose a challenging programme, including the anthem, Juilate Deo, by Britten. The choir was in fine voice and it was good to hear so many of the individual voices taking different solos in the Walford Davies psalm setting. Leading trebles, Thomas Rolfe and Archie Wood were in fine voice – so, too, were the senior choristers, Edmund Breen, Patrick Cole, Jamie Farrow, Carl Olavesen and Cameron Thomson.

A large group of chorister parents were at Coventry to cheer on the boys before we headed for home. The choir is clearly in good voice – and it was particularly encouraging to see such a healthy number of trebles, a dozen, in the choir. This augurs well for the future of Abingdon’s chapel choir.

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